Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Clayton Brothers – Brother to Brother

Beautifully oldschool, golden-age late 50s/early 60s style jazz by this highly regarded mostly family unit. Everybody in the Clayton Brothers has a distinct persona, although they all break character and surprise from time to time. Bandleader/bassist John Clayton is the suave one; his sax-playing brother Jeff is the party animal. Trumpeter Terell Stafford is the hard hitter, drummer Obed Calvaire (John Clayton’s “adopted” son) the no-nonsense purist with a BS detector set to stun, with pianist Gerald Clayton (John’s kid) the clear star of the show, a powerhouse player with a vivid, often plaintive tone and a devious sensibility that really rears its head live but also cuts through the arrangements here from time to time, as if to say, did you just hear me do that? Are you listening? In so doing, he sets the standard here: they’re all pushing each other hard, and having a good time in the process. This is a great ipod album.

 

It’s a concept cd, a tribute to brother combos in jazz throughout the ages: the Joneses (Elvin, Hank and Thad); Cannonball and Nate Adderley; Monty Alexander and his singer brother Larry; Kenny Burrell and his bassist brother Billy, and others. As you’d expect, there’s a chemistry in the playing here which lights a fire under the crew who aren’t actually blood relatives. The first track is an Elvin Jones tribute, Wild Man, a Jeff Clayton tune punctuated by numerous false endings and some marvelously terse playing by Calvaire that spins off plenty of Elvin tropes without seeming derivative. Stafford and Gerald Clayton both put a bright, vivid spin on it.

 

With a marathon swing in its step and a nod to the Nat Adderley classic More Work, John Clayton’s Still More Work lopes along tirelessly for over ten minutes, highlighted by another glistening Gerald Clayton solo. A cover of Nat Adderley’s Jive Samba gets a wickedly suspenseful treatment, driven by hypnotic, pulsing bass and a Jeff Clayton solo that hints at suspense just enough to create an atmosphere of unease; the Jeff Clayton jump blues Big Daddy Adderleys pays tribute to the whole family, buoyed by playful solos by just about everybody. 

 

The best song on the cd is Kenny Burrell’s Bass Face, done here with a gorgeously terse, catchy So What kind of vibe with sax and trumpet in tandem, counterintuitively melodic, chromatic bass and a noir Twin Peaks feel at the end. From the Keter Betts (Ella Fitzgerald’s last bassist) songbook comes the popular comedy number Walking Bass (bassist goes out to tie one along and brings the bass along – lookout world!), then a plaintive, Monty Alexander-inspired version of the old Broadway standard Where Is Love, and a latin-inflected Jeff Clayton tune, the Jones Brothers, wrapping up the cd on a high note with soulful contributions from the whole crew. Get this for your jazz snob friend who thinks the world stopped when we lost Trane; or for your avant-inclined friend who never heard the classic stuff done like this. All of the players in the group maintain busy schedules with and outside of this project: watch this space for New York dates.

 

In the same way that classical composers plied their craft throughout the ages, this ArtistShare cd was put out by a base of fans who backed the production (anybody remember Bowie bonds?): it ought to pay dividends that extend beyond the excellence of the music.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Clayton Brothers at Dizzy’s Club, NYC 1/16/09

No Wasted Notes Week must have gone into double overtime. Friday night’s early show by the Clayton Brothers at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center was a clinic in good fun, good taste and good chops. The quintet adhere to the long-hallowed tradition of stating the tune and then following with solos around the horn, either over the changes or some permutation thereof. What differentiates them is their complete commitment to melody and making what they play actually count for something: even when trumpeter Terell Stafford (a frequent McCoy Tyner sideman) would ride a crescendo about as far out as he could go, there was no doubt that he’d eventually land solidly. Otherwise, there’s something to be said for keeping it in the family and in the case of this band it works like a charm. The Claytons (patriarch John on bass, brother Jeff on alto, son Gerald on piano and adopted son Obed Calvaire on drums) all share a wry sense of humor, a prominent,  constantly recurring, most welcome trait. 

 

Throughout their hourlong set, John Clayton – a Ray Brown acolyte – restored the phrase “smooth grooves” to its rightful place in the lexicon, providing a supple pulse occasionally spiced with counterintuitive bowing and a marvelously tuneful, even minimalist sensibility. This was especially evident on the Kenny Burrell composition Bass Face, written for Ray Brown. To John Clayton’s credit, he put his own stamp on it, a cool, sly, slinky take (deadpan would be an accurate word, except that Clayton was wearing one kind of grin or another throughout the show).

 

Jeff Clayton is something of the group’s Secretary of Entertainment. John, a self-described “California boy,” groused about walking all the way down to the club from 75th Street in what these days of global warming is unseasonable cold (temps in the teens). “I just waited on the wing for the boat,” Jeff announced, referring to Thursday’s US Air flight’s miraculously successful Hudson River crash landing. Working up to a big swell, Jeff Clayton goodnaturedly bedeviled his mates, backing off, playing amusing little fractals and then when everybody seemed thoroughly nonplussed, he’d swing the melody by the tail and in an instant everybody would be back at it again. Yet perhaps the most emotionally impactful solo of the night was his, plaintive and thoughtful on an imaginative, low-key Monty Alexander arrangement of the old Broadway chestnut What Is Love. 

 

The night’s most impressive solos belonged to Gerald Clayton, who set a devious tone early on and didn’t stray far. Whether winding up one of a seemingly endless series of impressionistic crescendos with a vividly Asian-inflected melody, or plucking the strings inside the piano for a banjo-like tone while John Clayton worked up a guitar line, he kept both the audience and the rest of the band on their toes. Drummer Calvaire was fearless and all business, playing at a sonic level just short of what would have been too loud for the room – but he never went there. His star turn came on the Jeff Clayton composition (from the band’s reputedly excellent new ArtistShare CD Brother to Brother – a tribute to other brother acts in jazz throughout the ages) Wild Man, dedicated to Elvin Jones. Calvaire judiciously and inventively mixed in many familiar Elvin tropes – like the sudden drop on the tom or the aggressive ping off the top of a cymbal – without turning a heartwarming and rather exciting homage into parody. The band closed with a John Clayton number chronicling a trip through a traveler’s hell, starting with a missed flight in Berlin and ending with the bassist taking the stage, late, in Tokyo, 48 hours later, several connections later, probably with no sleep. But it wasn’t bitter! The band swung the song resolutely, just as John Clayton must have walked it and when they reached the part where he finally reached the stage, the melody rose and became utterly blissful, Stafford and Jeff Clayton fueling the party. It may have been cold outside last night, but there was a fire on the fifth floor at 60th and Broadway.

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment